January 24, 2009

Obama Ushering in a New Age of Hope

It's been something of an eventful few months recently here in the US. Banks are toppling, Wall Street is see-sawing schizophrenically, and not least the country has been waiting, literally with bated breath, to watch the baton of power being passed from George Bush to Barrack Obama. Tuesday, Inauguration Day, felt like one of the most significant days in my life so far, and now four days later, I find myself still in the same reflective mood I was then. I'm sure the whole world watched as Obama took his oath of acceptance on the steps of the National Mall in Washington, but I wondered if my family and friends at home in Ireland were experiencing what I was here. I had an enormous sense of the importance of the occasion. Somewhere deep in my being there was a feeling that this day was going to be hugely historic, one that I would look back upon and remember in years to come.

My day got off to an unexpected start, as I woke to a text from my cousin, a radio presenter with a local radio station in Ireland, to ask whether I would be interested in going on air for a quick interview about the atmosphere here in NYC leading up to the inauguration. At 7am, and having not yet had my morning coffee, I wasn't too sure if I would be up for the task, but decided that this was one of those opportunities in life for a new experience and decided to do it. I actually found it hugely enjoyable and it was a lot of fun talking to my cousin Paul live on air! Somehow that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day. All day at work, I watched the inauguration being streamed live on CNN, and it was impossible not to be affected by the joy and positivity of the onlookers being interviewed down in Washington. In the past, I have kept a close eye on the presidential elections and inaugurations in the US, but there is something uniquely different it seems about this one. Barack Obama has captured the imagination of the American public in the way perhaps that Kennedy did in years gone by. Leaving the fact that he is the country's first black president aside, an enormous achievement in itself, he has come from nowhere, having almost no experience in the political corridors of Washington. Not only that, he is an entirely likeable personality - Democrats and Republicans alike are behind him, America's black, white, hispanic and other communities love him equally. He has inspired adults and children alike. It feels as if America's citizens, wounded by the last decade under George Bush and by the vicious attacks of 9-11, are looking at Obama as something of a presidential Messiah!

One can't help but be inspired by this man. Born of a white mother and a black Kenyan father, his father left when Obama was a young child and he was raised by his mother. All his life he has worked for what he believes in and has achieved his goals tirelessly. His youthful vigour and nationalistic pride are, I believe, the reasons he stood on those steps in Washington on Tuesday. I can see no obvious hunger for power in this man. In the openness of his handsome face, I see goodness; I see a person who wants a better life for everyone, not just for Americans, but for the whole world! It was poignant to see the media shots from around the world, particularly one of little kids in Kenya waving American flags and wearing Obama t-shirts. He seems to have gotten the attention of every country on the planet and for all the right reasons. Yet another poignant moment was watching an interview given by the singer Beyonce after she sang for the First Couple's first dance at the Neighbourhood Ball on Inauguration Day. She was very emotional, fighting back tears when she said "He makes me want to be smarter. He makes me want to be a better human being. I'm so proud I could burst. I'm so happy to be here today singing for him!" And she wasn't the only one who felt that way. It seemed as if everyone I met on Tuesday was imbued with hope and joy. It was infectious here that day!

As I walked down 5th Avenue later that night on my way home, past St Patrick's Cathedral, I looked up at the huge American flags waving gently overhead and I sensed that a new era was dawning in the United States and felt real affection for the Americans. We have all at one time or another bought into the idea of the American Dream. We have all loved that something special that America used to promise, and I like to think that all of us, on some level, would all be glad to see the country rising up of its knees again and being the great nation that it once was, and better! Barack Obama wants that for America, he believes he can achieve it. He faces an uphill task undoubtedly, but I believe he has the support of the entire nation willing him on, and I, for one, am certainly rooting for him!

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